Makwa (Bear) and Floral

Artist: Ryan Pooman

Story by Laurie Abthorpe,



Superior Outdoors

The Arts

Travelling around the city, you may have noticed that some intersections feature a pop of vibrancy these days. Public art, introduced in the form of vinyl wraps, now beautifies a series of traffic signal boxes throughout the city. Beyond adding a new visual attractiveness to existing urban infrastructure, these unconventional canvases offer an opportunity for local artists to create and share their artwork within the community. Ryan Pooman was the first artist to have his work featured in this way. A painter and tattoo artist, Pooman is Bear Clan and a member of Fort William First Nation. Pooman shares that traditional Woodland paintings and his neo-traditional tattoo style inspire his art. This carries through in his piece titled Makwa (Bear) and Floral, which adorns the traffic signal box at Arthur Street and James Street, as well as the one on the corner of Oliver Road and Sanders Drive, both of which were installed in the fall of 2021, Pooman describes the opportunity as having “allowed me to present my art in the community through a bright, bold, Woodland-style Makwa (Bear) and Ojibwe floral. The inspiration behind this piece was strength, comfort, and home. In Ojibwe heritage, the Makwa represents strength and comfort. Home is represented through the comfort a mother bear brings to her cubs.” Artwork created for the traffic signal boxes was selected through an open call to artists from the City of Thunder Bay’s Public Art Program, juried by the Public Art Committee. Funded by the City of Thunder Bay and the Clean, Green & Beautiful Committee’s emerging projects fund, this well-received initiative has been a collaboration between the Public Art Committee, the Recreation & Culture Division, and the Engineering Division. Laurie Abthorpe is the cultural development and public art coordinator with the Recreation and Culture Division of the City of Thunder Bay working with the Public Art Committee (PAC). PAC provides expert community-based advice and knowledge to the Recreation & Culture Division for the provision of high quality, successful city-delivered public art. Visit thunderbay. ca/publicart for further details.